Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering at the Riverwest Food Pantry. I greet the individuals and families who enter the building and select their food for the week or month. It’s been a life-changing experience as I’ve gotten to know a lot of the people who utilize the pantry on a regular basis.
Last weekend the pantry held their annual Christmas Gift Giving celebration. Partnering with a local church, the entire pantry was converted into “a store” filled with donated toys, books and clothing for kids.
Parents sign up to “shop,” then they choose and wrap gifts for their children.
It is a very special event for these parents, as many of these families cannot afford a lot for Christmas.
Parents pre-registered and were invited to sit in the pews at the beautiful St. Casimir church. Here they waited for their designated shopping time to be called.
I was fortunate to be the person who greets the parents at the front door.
The first person in line was Annette, a woman I have talked to many times at the pantry. She told me how in year’s past, she’s had to wait hours to shop at this event, and was always concerned that there wouldn’t be enough gifts left for her to choose from.
“I guarantee you,” I said. “You will be one of the first people to shop downstairs. You will have your choice of items to pick from.”
The church quickly began to fill with people—we had enough gifts for over 400 children! Then the announcement came for the first group to head down the stairs to shop.
Annette was the first in line. As she approached me, her face beamed with happiness. Her smile was infectious. She didn’t say a single word, she simply walked up to me, extended her arms, and gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever received. I whispered two words in her ear: “Merry Christmas.”
But then something magical happened. The next person in line also extended their arms and gave me a hug. And the next person. And the next. Everyone in line extended their arms and gave me a hearty embrace.
The group that filed down the stairs to shop believed that they were the ones receiving a gift. But what they didn’t know was that I was the one who felt truly blessed that day.
The love we shared with these simple hugs reinforced that there is hope in the world. It reinforced that yes, we can influence people with a simple smile and a lot of compassion. It showed me that we have the ability to make a difference with both our words and our actions.
Are you ready for the birth of Christ? Are you ready to transform someone’s life in 2018?
Are you ready to share a message of Hope to everyone that you meet in the new year?
Dan Herda is member of St. Dominic’s Marketing Committee and an editor of theROCK.